The Shell Rock River is a 113-mile scenic, warm and gentle Minnesota stream that begins its southeast journey to the Mississippi River at the outlet of Albert Lea Lake southeast of the city of Albert Lea, joining the Cedar and Iowa Rivers along its course. From the headwaters at Fountain Lake, the Shell Rock River State Water Trail travels 20 miles through central Freeborn County to the Iowa border.
Named for the fossilized shells found along its banks, the Shell Rock River offers excellent recreational opportunities, including boating on Fountain Lake, fishing, bird watching and wildlife observation.
Local contact and map
- No major rapids.
- Minimal elevational changes.
- Flat, grassy environment provides a pleasant meandering experience for paddlers.
- A true prairie river, traveling through numerous riparian wetlands, upland slopes and tall-grass prairies.
The Shell Rock River State Water Trail begins at the headwaters of Fountain Lake, traveling across the expanse of Albert Lea Lake, eventually tapering to a narrow river corridor. The water trail extends 20 miles and passes through the City of Albert Lea, Myre-Big Island State Park, the City of Glenville, and two wildlife management areas before arriving at the Minnesota-Iowa border.
The Shell Rock River is the namesake for the Shell Rock River Watershed, which drains 246 square miles within Freeborn County. The watershed's shallow lakes and marshes were formed when the last glaciers retreated from Minnesota around 10,000 years ago. Soils in this part of the corn belt region are glacial tills, with the surrounding lakes formed by glacial drift deposits and meltwater.
Land use today is predominantly for corn and soybean row crops, but paddlers will encounter both prairie and forested areas along portions of the river.
Before the early 1800s, this area was a mix of tall-grass prairie, oak savanna, wooded riverbanks and wetlands. Historically, fire was the most important disturbance, and maintained oak openings rather than the forests you can see today.
Fish and wildlife
The Shell Rock River watershed has been a desirable place to live for thousands of years, providing important travel routes to and from the Mississippi River. Archaeologists have identified stone tools in the area that date from the Paleoindian Period (12,000-8,000 years ago) to as recent as four hundred years ago.
Myre-Big Island State Park contains dozens of archaeological sites representing American Indian campsites, hunting and gathering activities, and burial grounds.
Historical sites within the watershed are also representative of early Euro-American settlement, including homesteads dating from the mid-nineteenth century. These settlers were drawn to the area by the promise of inexpensive land and fertile soils for raising crops.